What Obama read as he went on to become US president

January 19th, 2009 - 9:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaNew York, Jan 19 (IANS) Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography “The Story of My Experiments with Truth”, The Bible, writings of Abraham Lincoln and Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” are among US president-elect Barack Obama’s all-time favoured readings.In an article headlined “From Books, New President Found Voice” in the New York Times ahead of Tuesday’s inauguration of Obama as the US’ 44th president, noted literary critic Michiko Kakutani writes that the much appreciated eloquence of America’s first black president lay in his love for the written word right from his childhood.

“Much has been made of Mr. Obama’s eloquence - his ability to use words in his speeches to persuade and uplift and inspire,” notes Kakutani.

“But his appreciation of the magic of language and his ardent love of reading have not only endowed him with a rare ability to communicate his ideas to millions of Americans while contextualizing complex ideas about race and religion, they have also shaped his sense of who he is and his apprehension of the world.”

Obama’s love for literature right from his adolescent days as he came to terms with his racial identity also got reflected in his own autobiography “Dreams From My Father”, which he wrote even before he entered active politics.

The autobiography, feels Kakutani, “surely stands as the most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president”.

As a young boy in Indonesia, Obama came to know about the American civil rights movement through books provided by his mother.

Then as a community organiser in Chicago, he was inspired by “Parting the Waters”, the first instalment of Taylor Branch’s multi-volume biography of the Martin Luther King Jr.

Among those whose works Obama read as he came to terms with his identity are James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and W.E.B. Du Bois.

In recent times, Kakutani writes, books on governance are what the president-elect is reading.

“It’s been widely reported that ‘Team of Rivals’, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book about Abraham Lincoln’s decision to include former opponents in his cabinet, informed Mr. Obama’s decision to name his chief Democratic rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as Secretary of State.

“In other cases, books about F.D.R.’s first hundred days in office and Steve Coll’s ‘Ghost Wars’, about Afghanistan and the C.I.A., have provided useful background material on some of the myriad challenges Mr. Obama will face upon taking office.”

The article also drew a comparison - or rather a contrast - between the reading habits of outgoing President George W. Bush and Obama.

“His predecessor, George W. Bush, in contrast, tended to race through books in competition with Karl Rove (who recently boasted that he beat the president by reading 110 books to Mr. Bush’s 95 in 2006), or passionately embrace an author’s thesis as an idée fixe,” the well-known book critic writes.

Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography was mentioned in the fourth place in the list of Obama’s all-time favoured list of reading matter.

Here is the list: The Bible; “Parting the Waters” by Taylor Branch; “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson; Gandhi’s autobiography; “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin; “The Golden Notebook” by Doris Lessing; Lincoln’s collected writings; “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville; “Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison; works of Reinhold Niebuhr; “Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson; and Shakespeare’s tragedies.

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